Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Arpad Okay. It starts with a spark. Super fun from the first. With Brüssli: Way of the Dragon Boy, Jean-Louis Fonteneau and J. Etienne have tapped into the same timeless aesthetics that made Disney endure all these years, for grown-ups as well as children. A warning: This book is unabashedly heartwarming.
The hero (a plucky little boy, hatched from an egg) and his unlikely adoptive family are pitted against a greedy heiress, a pack of wolves, and worse. Against supply, demand, and the real world. The story confronts the peril of playing at being an adult before your innocence is lost. The real world may not have dragons, but it damn sure plays for keeps. It feels like The Grimms’ Snow White, but it’s also as fresh as The Emperor’s New Groove or something from Pixar. Brüssli has the potential to cross generations. It’s good YA that trusts its readers. It’s the stuff that encourages growth.
Etienne’s colorful aesthetic also suits classic Disney in both the style and the content it portrays. Each panel resembles a single frame of film, a cell painted by Ward Kimball or another of the Nine Old Men. The Disneyland hamlets, roadsters, factories, and mansions. The Hanna-Barbera woodlands, wolves, and fairies. And for each room or face, a personal touch and often more, a tiny wealth of unique details. Each page is busy but none are ever cluttered. Details are merely the icing, witnessing these great characters and their foibles are your cake. A gingerbread house would be more accurate, raised to keep in line with Brüssli’s Golden Book depiction of a fairy tale world.
Fonteneau sure tells it in a fairy tale style. A fantasy about family and security and how valor can make one a legend. A bit from every type of peasant’s tale, from serfdom to labor. And a touch of swashbuckling romance in the face of fascism. Also quite like fairy tales, each subsequent addition to the cast is more fantastic than the character that came before them.
I love the Chuck Jones wolf men police squad. The different flavors of sailor wolf gambling in the meat locker. Hear the magic voice of a bawdy circus flea. See gangsters and séances. Fairies borne from a rainbow Moomin reverie. Silly sweet sister and terrifying Auntie Medusa sister. To say nothing of the Dragon Boy. Brüssli is the perfect amount of courageous, a feisty kid in a silly hat who can also spit fire. He’s a romantic (of course) and silly, and actually quite charming.
For all its Grimm conventions and Disney tendencies, Way of the Dragon Boy is more sophisticated than straightforward. This idea is shown to us, not told. Submerged in story, hidden by intrigue and dangerous secrets. Clues are planted and beautifully paid off.
The comparisons to the classics come easy because the lot of them are very thoughtfully composed. Brüssli put in the work and the results are compelling. Every page has something to evoke warm feelings about the past, and each page presents the reader with something unique to this tale. There’s just something about that Dragon Boy, an odd duck, that one weird friend you can’t see yourself surviving without. He seems at once familiar and out of place, but sit down with him and all of a sudden his story becomes one about us.
Written by Jean-Louis Fonteneau.
Artwork by J. Etienne.
Translated by Anna Provitola.
US Edition edited by Tim Pilcher and Alex Donoghue.